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Defending Yoga… Sort Of

Yoga pants distracting? Maybe, but at least girls sit on them in class (The Chive)

Yoga pants distracting? Maybe, but at least girls sit on them in class (The Chive)

Last week, officials at Rockport Middle/High School in Massachusetts attempted to enforce a ban on yoga pants, which they claim are in violation of the school’s policy regarding “leggings worn as pants” and “overly tight” clothing. A number of faculty members had expressed concern over the pants being a distraction to other students—particularly hot-blooded, heterosexual males—so administrators felt more strict enforcement of the policy was in order. School Principal Philip Conrad even asked several girls to change last Friday, some into clothes available at the school—like gym attire—and some into clothes retrieved from home.

And as you might expect, many Rockport students were not happy.

“Rockport has a tendency to address these things in an explosive manner,” said 16-year-old Alex Arnaud, who was among the students wearing the banned leggings last week. And freshman Jade Barry—who felt the administration’s decision was just another form of sexism—confessed to wearing yoga pants simply because “they’re comfortable.”

Junior Alex Arnaud speaks out (Mike Springer/Gloucester Daily Times)

Junior Alex Arnaud speaks out (Mike Springer/Gloucester Daily Times)

Of course, 16-year-old sophomore Thomas Beaton put it best when he pointed out that yoga pants on girls are no different from sweatpants on guys, which often leave little to the imagination given everything jangling around down there. “I think there are bigger school problems to worry about than what girls wear for pants,” he said.

Loosely translated, this means “please let girls wear what they want and don’t ban the tight pants I love so much!” Trust me. I speak fluent hetero-male. It’s a blessing and a curse.

At any rate, resistance to the yoga pants ban grew so quickly that Rockport Superintendent of Schools Robert Liebow and Principal Conrad lifted the ban—meaning it will not be strictly enforced—and vowed to form a committee to review the controversial dress code.

“This is the prudent approach,” Liebow explained. “To have everyone weigh in on what should be acceptable dress for school.”

So for now, it seems students like junior Olivia Keating can continue to wear the popular pants in school, but their days certainly could be numbered. And I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I support the right of these young women to wear yoga pants in school.

Some teachers look good in yoga pants, too (The Hollywood Gossip)

Some teachers look good in yoga pants, too (The Hollywood Gossip)

And no, I don’t frequent local high schools to ogle young girls in tight pants. I leave that to my high school brothers and sisters.

The reason I think yoga pants should be allowed is because honestly, girls are the distraction, not the pants they’re wearing. Granted, we didn’t have pants like these when I was in high school, but gym shorts, leotards—worn with short skirts, mostly in the 80s—and eventually biker shorts could have been blamed for distracting students just as easily. The difference is that we all knew it wasn’t the clothing that grabbed our attention; it was the lovely lady upon which that clothing was fortunate enough to rest—a place guys like me longed to inhabit once that clothing was balled up on the floor beside the bed, if you know what I mean.

And I’m sure you do since I’m laying it on pretty thick.

People should also remember that just because yoga pants are allowed in school doesn’t mean every encounter will be distracting in a good way. I apologize if this sounds means, harsh or insensitive, but there are some people who have no business wearing tight pants… and I am referring to both men and women. Yes, people should be able to wear what makes them comfortable or happy. This is America, after all. The trouble is that on occasion, an individual’s physical build runs contrary to the design of a particular item of clothing, in this case yoga pants. And we all know the result can sometimes be horrifying and sad, even if we don’t care to admit it.

You may want to keep gym segregated by gender, though... just to be safe (The Chive)

You may want to keep gym segregated by gender, though… just to be safe (The Chive)

I know that I would look like shit in tight pants—given my complete lack of ass and some other “shortcomings”—so the fact that others choose to risk it never ceases to amaze me.

At the end of the day, though, the primary reason I feel yoga pants should be permitted in schools is because in terms of distractions, they just don’t seem very important. Better to focus on more serious distractions—like school shootings and teachers having sex with students—don’t you think?

Deadly New Year

How much is enough? (Washington Post)

How much is enough? (Washington Post)

On December 14, 2012, a disturbed 20-year-old named Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother in their Newtown, Connecticut home, traveled to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School and proceeded to gun down 20 children and 6 staff members before taking his own life. This tragic event ushered in a new year that many hoped would be less violent than the last, but sadly, this was not the case.

By the time 2013 reached its halfway point—somewhere around May 31st—the number of people killed by guns in the United States had already surpassed the number of American troops killed during the entire Iraq War, according to ThinkProgress. In March, a college student in Florida pulled a dorm fire alarm and tried to slaughter his classmates as they poured into the hallways. In September, a defense contract employee marched into the Washington Navy Yard and gunned down 12 people. And these are only a few examples of what became an extremely violent year.

Reeves and his victim Chad Oulson (Reuters)

Reeves and his victim Chad Oulson (Reuters)

I was hoping things would improve in 2014, but that obviously isn’t going to happen given some of the shootings we’ve seen in only a few weeks’ time. And this week has been especially deadly thanks to guns and the people who use them for evil.

First it was Curtis Reeves, a 71-year-old retired police officer who shot and killed a 43-year-old man on Monday for sending text messages to his 3-year-old daughter in a Florida movie theater last Monday. That day also saw 48-year-old Jennifer Berman of Florida murder her children—16-year-old Alex and 15-year-old Jacqueline, both promising musicians—before turning the gun on herself.

Mason Campbell used a shotgun in Roswell (KRQE)

Mason Campbell used a shotgun in Roswell (KRQE)

Tuesday morning came and it was a 12-year-old who decided to inflict more gun violence, this time with a sawed-off shotgun. He walked into Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, New Mexico with three shells, fired them all and injured two students before being detained and arrested. Now a child too young to see a PG-13 movie faces three counts of aggravated battery.

On Wednesday evening, a man walked into a grocery store in Elkhart, Indiana with an automatic handgun and murdered two women before police shot him to death a short time later. Police still have no idea what prompted his attack.

No matter how bad things get in this country and how many people die as a result of gun-related violence, it still seems as if very little is being done to prevent future shootings. Universal background checks for all gun purchases got shot down—pun intended—yet we still face mass shootings every year. And from the look of it, 2014 will be just as deadly as the last few years.

When will it ever end?

Reality Round-Up: Sex and the Naked Truth

A famous scene from the film “American Pie” (Universal Pictures)

Yesterday, I published the latest installment in my ongoing Reality Round-Up series, “Hump Day +1.” For those of you unfamiliar with RRU, it’s basically a way for me to connect news stories from around the world—normally based on strange similarities or other common factors—while also commenting on the world around me. In terms of blogging, I’ve found it to be a useful tool—the news never stops and I can always count on someone doing some crazy shit worthy of a post.

Of course, it’s rare for me to publish two Reality Round-Ups back-to-back since variety is the spice of life and I try to mix things up a bit more for readers—interspersing news commentary with original essays, inspirational stories and even the occasional short fiction or screenplay idea. Every so often, though, news stories converge in a kind of “perfect storm” and simply cannot be ignored.

And today, ladies and gentlemen, is one of those days.

As a result of passing out early on the sofa last night—I have no idea what time it happened, so I must have been more exhausted than I thought—I woke up earlier than usual and made it to work a bit early, as well. After preparing for my day and completing some other small tasks, I decided to start scanning the news sites for more blog fodder, again searching for themes that might connect some of them while also appealing to readers.

I like focusing on connections because it helps me illustrate the connectedness of human kind—how we are all brothers and sisters who, despite living on different sides of the world, still have more in common than we might think. This “brotherhood of man” approach has always been important to me because our differences make us unique, yet almost always lead to strife in one form or another. Focusing on the similarities between us, on the other hand, makes day-to-day life better because it shows how our struggles, joys, successes and failures are common and should bring us together. It’s my small contribution to the betterment of society, or so I like to think.

As I was surfing from site to site in search of a topic for today’s RRU, two buzz words seemed to hit numerous times in different stories: sex and nudity. Granted, this may seem like a good thing until you remember how news agencies tend to focus more on the negative than the positive. Yes, one of these stories does have a happy ending, but in most cases—and because of the darkness that seems to be spreading across the United States (and the world, for that matter)—I’m afraid the negativity still rises to the top. My hope is that this won’t ruin anyone’s day or start the weekend off on the wrong foot, but again, they were too disturbing, strange and even interesting to ignore. I hope you enjoy this edition despite the darkness that always creeps in to the Reality Round-Up.

BILLINGS, MONTANA

Not long ago, I wrote about a man named Stacey Dean Rambold, a former high school teacher who confessed to raping one of his students—Cherize Moralez—when she was only 14 years old. Before he went to trial, though—and given the psychological and emotional consequences of rape—Moralez committed suicide. She was only two weeks shy of her 17th birthday at the time.

Judge Baugh, Moralez and Rambold (Mankato Times)

Judge Baugh, Moralez and Rambold (Mankato Times)

Rambold’s case got national attention when the judge presiding over it—the “honorable” G. Todd Baugh—claimed his victim “seemed older than her chronological age” and sentenced him to only one month in jail—in legal terms, this is known as a deferred prosecution agreement. Rambold was placed on probation for the next 15 years or so and was also required to complete a sex offender treatment program. The stipulations of this program included no contact with children, avoidance of any area where children congregate and the relinquishing of all photo, video, Internet and cell phone capabilities. As long as Rambold lived up to his obligations, all charges against him would be dropped.

Unfortunately for Rambold, he fell short of some of his treatment requirements and prosecutors pushed for his sentence to be increased to 20 years in jail. Judge Baugh disagreed and again showed his level of incompetence when he made the following statement:

“He (Rambold) made some violations of his treatment program. They were more technical and not the kind you would send someone to prison for.”

Perhaps not, but I certainly think rape is a jail-able crime, even more so when it involves an underage girl who subsequently killed herself as a result. It’s too bad Baugh didn’t think this way because yesterday, Rambold completed his month behind bars and was released from jail. Yes, he’s on probation for a long time, but otherwise he’s a free man—which means he’s capable of doing this to some other unsuspecting girl.

After all, anyone who’s willing to rape a child is obviously sick and capable of doing it again and again, at least until someone stops him. And since our justice system failed miserably in the case of Rambold—a confessed rapist—I hope we don’t see his name in the headlines again for a similar crime… but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised.

Of course, I would also like to see the following headline in the news: Judge Baugh Fired for Being a Complete Moron. This is more likely to happen, and I will be keeping my eyes peeled for it very soon.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

Although I know better, I was hoping the days of Catholic priests molesting children were largely behind us. Sadly, this isn’t the case in Philly where Father Robert Brennan was just charged with rape, aggravated indecent assault and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse. His case is related to the 2012 child endangerment conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, the first church leader convicted of such a crime.

What I find most disturbing about Brennan’s case—aside from the actual crimes themselves—is that he was implicated in a 2005 case for allegedly abusing more than 20 children. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations had passed and he was never charged. The archdiocese stripped him of most of his duties shortly after these allegations came to light, but he was allowed to remain a priest and we see where that led. Had he been removed from the priesthood and jailed for his crimes, things likely would have been much, much different.

Father Robert Brennan, leave those kids alone! (CBS Local)

Father Robert Brennan, leave those kids alone! (CBS Local)

Is it me or does anyone else sense a trend here? Teenagers who are mentally ill but don’t receive the proper treatment arm themselves and start killing schoolchildren, while priests who molest children are allowed to continue so they can do the same thing to other victims.

Until we start acknowledging these kinds of issues and actually take action, all we’re doing is reinforcing the behavior we all want to weed out of our society… at least I hope we all do. Based on some of these recent developments, though, it seems as if the very system of checks and balances we use to prevent crime continues to fail, opening the door to even more crime in the future.

Something’s got to give, but until it does, expect to see more priests molesting children since we’re obviously doing very little to stop them.

TEMECULA, CALIFORNIA

On Thursday, 19-year-old Jared James Abrahams—a computer science student with a penchant for hacking—was arrested for allegedly hijacking the webcams of young women and then extorting more risqué photos and videos by threatening to release these images online. One of his victims, in fact, was none other than Cassidy Wolf, the current Miss Teen USA and—at the time of her harassment—Miss Teen California.

According to the latest reports, Abrahams hacked into the webcams of young women, took control of their computers and then used the cameras to snap pictures of them changing clothes. He told authorities that he had as many as 40 “slave computers”—as well as access to other electronic devices (like tablets and cell phones)—and in all controlled as many as 150 different devices at one time. Once he had the images he needed, Abrahams would then contact each victim and threaten to release the photos unless they sent him more pictures or videos via Skype. His general threat went something like this:

“Either you do one of the things listed below or I upload these pics and a lot more (I have a LOT more and those are better quality) on all your accounts for everybody to see.”

In the case of Cassidy Wolf, he added “and your dream of being a model will be transformed into a porn star.”

What a complete freaking loser.

Cassidy Wolf and Abrahams, her online tormentor (NBC News)

Cassidy Wolf and Abrahams, her online tormentor (NBC News)

Fortunately, Abrahams wasn’t a tech savvy as he thought and failed to cover his “online tracks” effectively. Investigators eventually discovered emails, IP addresses and other communications linking him to these crimes—as well as posts to online forums where he asked others about hacking into Facebook accounts, controlling webcams remotely and installing malware. He was also linked to at least eight other women from places as close as Southern California and as distant as Moldova. And they all told stories similar to Wolf’s.

The good news is that Abrahams “wised up,” surrendered to the FBI without incident and admitted his crimes. After appearing in court, he was released “on intensive pretrial supervision and home detention with electronic monitoring,” but his parents had to first sign bond agreements upwards of $50,000 to make this happen. Abrahams will now face federal extortion charges, which I hope will lead to some serious jail time. We’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose.

There is one more thing I should mention about Abrahams: he’s autistic. This information came out Thursday when his lawyer, Alan Eisner, spoke with CNN affiliate KTLA. In other words, here’s another teenager with mental illness who perpetrated a crime that, to me, could have been prevented.

When are we ever going to learn?

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND

In an effort to end this edition of the Reality Round-Up on a more positive note, I bring you a story from Brown University that proves there are still some decent people in the world.

To generate discussion about “power, privilege, race, class, gender, ability and… how they interact with nudity, body image and nudity in relation to sexuality,” students at Brown have organized Nudity in the Upspace, a clothing-optional event that includes yoga classes, open mic nights, body painting and the aforementioned discussion forum.

Nude yoga sounds a little sketchy to me—especially if you get stuck behind a less hygienic person—but to each his own.

According to the event coordinators—juniors Becca Wolinsky and Camila Pacheco-Fores—the hope is that Nudity in the Upspace will promote both positivity and education.

Come to Brown University for an education and some nudity to boot (Campus Reform)

Come to Brown University for an education and some nudity to boot (Campus Reform)

“It’s mostly the idea of talking about and addressing things that people don’t ‘normally’ address that can be stigmatized,” Pacheco-Fores said recently. “I hope that people will laugh when it’s funny and feel moved when that is appropriate. I hope that people will come out of the experience feeling empowered and feeling that bodies and people are beautiful whether naked or clothed.”

Personally, I’m sure I would be very moved if I attended an event populated with naked college girls. And I’m sure some male or even female students at Brown would feel the same, even though many Ivy Leaguers likely have more self-control. Either way, though, the event seems like a great idea since we often forget that “normal people” don’t look like the models, actors and other beautiful folks featured in the media. I commend these students for being willing enough—and courageous enough—to shed their clothing for such a great cause.

I’m also glad no cameras, cell phones or bags will be allowed at the event. Otherwise I’m certain there would be pictures of naked students all over the Internet… as if there aren’t enough already!

So there you have it, folks: the sex and nudity edition of the Reality Round-Up. I’m certain it won’t be the last…

Death on the World Stage

The siege on a mall in Nairobi (Jerome Delay/AP)

The siege on a mall in Nairobi (Jerome Delay/AP)

Despite life in my world being rather uneventful at the moment—and Monday bringing the start of another tedious work week (for lots of people, I imagine)—events around the globe continue to result in the deaths of innocent people. Check the latest news stories from nearly any source and you will notice just how destructive life has become in some parts of the world… so destructive that in many cases, life itself may be in jeopardy.

About the only good news to be found comes from Nairobi, Kenya, where a standoff with Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorists seems to be coming to an end. The terrorists took control of Westgate Shopping Mall last Saturday and launched a siege that killed roughly 62 people. Negotiations began and some hostages were freed, but apparently things weren’t moving fast enough for authorities. Security forces moved in Monday and based on the latest reports, authorities now have control of the four-story building.

None of this changes the fact that more than 60 people died in this deadly attack.

Our next bit of international chaos comes from Islamabad, Pakistan. Sunday morning, members of All Saints Church in northwest Pakistan were attending morning services when suicide bombers entered the building and detonated their explosives among the congregation of 500 people present there. The attack left roughly 120 people wounded—at least ten of them in critical condition—and killed 81 people, including children.

Protests erupt in Islamabad (AFP)

Protests erupt in Islamabad (AFP)

The attack is being hailed as one of the deadliest against the Christian community in Pakistan. It was perpetrated by a Taliban splinter group who claimed the attack was prompted by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

“Until and unless drone strikes are stopped, we will continue to strike wherever we will find an opportunity against non-Muslims,” a spokesperson for the group said recently.

I guess what bothers me most—aside from the loss of innocent lives—is that drone strikes don’t happen in a vacuum. They are prompted by violence and destruction that warrant the use of armed retaliation, in this case armed and remote-controlled retaliation. Personally, I would love for drone strikes and other military action to never be necessary. Unfortunately, this likely will never happen since violence seems to perpetuate more violence. And until one side is willing to lay down their arms and seek more peaceful resolutions to the world’s problems, you can’t expect the other side to do the same.

Something has to give, though, because too many people are dying simply because others are too resistant to real, lasting and nonviolent change.

Our final example of “death the world over” doesn’t involve foreign governments, terrorist attacks or military actions; it involves Mother Nature.

Flooding from Typhoon Usagi in China (Aaron Favila/AP)

Flooding from Typhoon Usagi in China (Aaron Favila/AP)

The people of southern China were just slammed by yet another typhoon, this one known as Typhoon Usagi. The powerful storm with sustained winds over 100 mph made landfall late Sunday and has thus far ended the lives of at least 25 people. Usagi also left several people dead and others missing in the Philippines, while injuring a handful of others in Taiwan before finally reaching China. It has currently weakened into a tropical depression, but sadly, the damage has already been done. And there is always a chance the death toll will rise before the waters of this terrible storm recede. Let’s all hope that doesn’t happen, though.

Life is hard for many of us, but we should always remember that things could be much, much worse. The victims of these terrible events understand now just how quickly life can change, and we can all benefit from learning this valuable lesson before something similar happens to us.

The Return of Grand Theft Auto

GTA V is the latest in the controversial video game series (Rockstar Games)

GTA V is the latest in the controversial video game series (Rockstar Games)

Unless you have been living under a rock, on a desert island or in some underground bunker cut off from the rest of the world this week, you are likely aware that the latest installment in Rockstar GamesGrand Theft Auto video game seriesGrand Theft Auto V—has been released and is selling faster than any video game in history.

In its first day, the game often blamed for inciting real-life violence—especially in children or nearly any mentally disturbed individual who chooses to take innocent lives—made a whopping $800 million worldwide. This was twice as much as most analysts predicted, but GTA V still has momentum and in only three days topped the $1 billion mark—roughly one-fifth as long as it took Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 to reach the same milestone.

Think of it like this: One of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters of all time—The Dark Knight—made just over $1 billion worldwide, while the James Cameron epic Avatar cleared almost $2.8 billion. Both of these figures should be easy enough for GTA V to eclipse, and some expect this to happen as early as November.

By a video game!

Granted, GTA V cost as much as many motion pictures to produce—somewhere in the neighborhood of $140 million—and took longer to get done—the Rockstar people have been working on it since releasing the mediocre GTA IV in 2008—but it certainly seems to have paid off. Of course, it isn’t without its share of controversy.

Hell, it wouldn’t be Grand Theft Auto if it didn’t piss off somebody along the way.

At the moment—and despite carrying a rating “M” sticker indicating it is only for mature audiences (which could actually disqualify many adults, too)—GTA V is being criticized for the usual suspects: violence, language, misogyny, sex. But some key features, scenes and missions really have people fired up. Animal rights folks have asked for the game to be boycotted since it allows players to run over, kill and even behead animals. However, most of the negative attention has been focused on one mission in particular known as “By the Book.”

This torture scene has human rights groups up in arms (Rockstar Games)

This torture scene has human rights groups up in arms (Rockstar Games)

In “By the Book,” players—and their in-game doppelgängers Trevor and Michael—are commanded by the FBI to extract information from a suspect by means of torture. Beating, pulling teeth and electrocuting the prisoner are all options as players try to squeeze names, locations and other vital data out of him. The scene is supposedly very gruesome and, by the end, rather unnecessary since the captive likely would have “spilled his guts” without all the pain and suffering. Of course, the character of Trevor addresses this very issue in the game:

Torture’s for the torturer. Or the guy giving the order to the torturer. You torture for the good times! We should all admit that. It’s useless as a means of getting information.”

Now I’ll be the first to agree that glamorizing torture—or even violence in general—is a bad idea. However—and having played GTA since its inception in 1997 for the first PlayStation game console—I don’t think that’s what the people at Rockstar Games are doing. Yes, things like sex, violence and destruction help sell more video games—not to mention books, films and a host of other consumer products—but there is an obvious reason for that: it’s what people see in their daily lives!

Turn on the news and you are likely to encounter some of the same evil and violent acts seen in GTA V and most of its predecessors. One of the fundamental rules of any creative field is to focus on what you know, what you see and what you experience. For writers, it’s the “write what you know” advice you often receive from more seasoned veterans. So when you drop everything, take a look around and try to determine what it is you actually know—as well as what your intended audience or customers know—sex, violence and even torture inevitably appear.

In America, for instance, there have been countless news stories about our government’s use of torture methods like water boarding. But we also hear about the torture and abuse being perpetrated by governments all over the world, sometimes against their own citizens. Then we hear an account of some unlucky American journalist who is abducted by Islamic radicals, tortured endlessly and finally beheaded on camera for the whole world to see.

Los Santos or Los Angeles? You be the judge (Rockstar Games)

Los Santos or Los Angeles? You be the judge (Rockstar Games)

These things make an impression, wouldn’t you agree? And while it might be in poor taste to allow video gamers to participate in torture simply by pressing some buttons on a controller, it is much better than having them wield a machete to perform the same gruesome and criminal act in reality. And to me, that’s Rockstar Games’ angle. What they do is more social commentary than violence promotion, and it’s obvious their formula works. Otherwise we wouldn’t be buying it and talking about it so much, would we?

To me, Grand Theft Auto has always been more about catharsis—a purging of anti-civilization and misanthropic feelings through the artistic medium of the video game. Whether or not we care to admit it, we all experience moments when our positive, uplifting thoughts are replaced by dark, evil ones. Someone pulls out in front of us and we mutter how we wish they were dead. A guy flirts with your girlfriend, so you threaten to rip off his head and shit down his neck if he doesn’t back off. Does this mean you would actually do something so violent and—let’s face it—gross? Of course not, but the thoughts sometimes cross your mind.

Parents aren't too fond of the sex and nudity in GTA V, either (Rockstar Games)

Parents aren’t too fond of the sex and nudity in GTA V, either (Rockstar Games)

And that’s the big difference to me: GTA V is a game. It can be violent, there is some sex and every other word sounds like it comes from the mouth of a sailor, but I could say the same for some films and television shows I’ve seen, too. I should also mention that GTA V operates well within the system we as a society have created for it. The game is intended for mature audiences and has been labeled as such, which is no different from rating a film with an R or even an X. Does this mean some kids won’t sneak into a movie theater, search for porn online or even play GTA V? Of course not, but until we can control everything—which I certainly don’t think should be our goal anyway—we need to remember that art isn’t the problem; we as a society are the problem.

So how about we stop blaming video games like GTA V for everything? I think taking a long, hard look at ourselves would be much more productive.

A SEMI-QUICK (and PERSONAL) SIDE NOTE:

As I mentioned earlier, I have been playing Grand Theft Auto since its early days—when the graphics and game play were terrible, but still the best thing around at that time. And I remember when Grand Theft Auto III came out and changed the face of gaming forever. Hell, I still return to my old PlayStation 2 to enjoy it and my personal favorite—Vice Cityon the rare occasion.

San Andreas was also pretty good, but like many of you, I was disappointed by GTA IV. Some spin-off games like Liberty City Stories were okay, I suppose, but I was really looking forward to GTA V. The way I figured, all the annoying little things about the last few games would be worked out and from there only improvements could be made.

In other words, GTA V would be the game that finally got it right… that saw all the little pieces of the puzzle fall neatly into place.

The first Grand Theft Auto seems like eons ago (DMA Design/BMG)

The first Grand Theft Auto seems like eons ago (DMA Design/BMG)

Whether or not GTA V lived up to the hype I (and others) created for it, I can’t say. Unlike those hardcore gamers out there, I didn’t preorder it or stand in line Monday night to pick it up once it hit store shelves. The “old me” would have done that, to be sure, but he’s long gone. I still game, mind you—most frequently on my cell phone in the form of Words with Friends or The Sims Freeplay—but those Mountain Dew and cigarette-fueled marathon gaming sessions of my youth have been replaced by work obligations, weekend plans and a host of other activities.

I still enjoy the occasional destruction of GTA, though. And from what I can tell, GTA V is everything I imagined and more.

For whatever reason, I bought the game yesterday morning—along with some meds for an upset stomach that kept me out of work for the day—and fully intended to get some serious game time in. After opening it and setting it beside my PS3, though, a funny thing happened: I didn’t touch it for the next nine hours. It was 10 p.m. before I finally installed and launched the damn thing.

At the time, I wasn’t sure why I delayed my GTA V experience because I filled the time with other tasks that demanded my attention. There were some house chores, a few last-minute things for work, a couple of errands thrown in… nothing out of the ordinary, but all somewhat more important than gaming, at least to the middle-aged man in the mirror. And I even finished everything in time to start playing by late afternoon, but it still didn’t happen.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I know how I am… or at least how I used to be… when it comes to video games. I already have an obsessive personality—definitely a mild to average case of OCD—with ADD that I medicate and some other “eccentricities.” Who doesn’t, right? When I’ve played Grand Theft Auto in the past, then, I have always done so to the extreme. Hours turn into days. Days into weeks. Weeks into months. I ignore the people around me, lose interest in how I present myself to others and obsess over completing every nit-picky detail of whatever game sucked me into its nightmare at the time.

It is not a pretty sight, to say the least.

So before sticking that CD into the console, I thought twice about it. I also took some time to see what others were saying online about their first experience with GTA V. And what I learned kept me away from the game a little bit longer: everyone loved it! Not only that, but they were playing so much that cheats were already being discovered. For those of you who don’t know, most of the cheats in GTA games involve specific button sequences you can enter for free weapons, ammunition, armor, vehicles and other advantages. Figuring them all out can be tedious, but those who seek them often post their results online pretty quickly.

A great game that I’ve been waiting years to play—coupled with all the great things people were saying about it and all the time they were spending actually playing it—freaked me out a little. Once I started playing, and knowing my sorted past, would I be able to stop? Would I find the game as enjoyable as everyone else, or was this really setting me up for a huge let-down?

By 10:00, I realized that I was over-thinking this far too much. I pumped myself up and it was finally time to see what GTA V was all about. I opened the case, carefully extracted the game and loaded it into my PS3, ready to see what happened next.

Boom. Software update.

Since I broke my old habits of gaming all the time, it’s been a while since I played my PS3. A software update was required, so I went ahead and got that done. Moments later it was back to the game. I was still pumped, mind you, only slightly less than before. It did feel good to see that Rockstar logo flash across the screen again, so I was gearing up to start wreaking havoc.

Boom. Installing the game.

The original Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar Games)

The original Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar Games)

This process took a little longer and I found myself staring at GTA V scenes and listening to funky music for quite some time. I spent some of that time refreshing myself on the controls—which button you use to shoot, which one operates the hand brake and so on. You’d be surprised how quickly this comes back to you after you’ve logged thousands of hours of game time. It’s like riding a bike, only much, much easier.

Time passed and finally GTA V was ready to play. Since this was my first time experiencing it, I watched all of the introductory scenes that many gamers skip past, interested in knowing the story since fellow writers took the time to create one. It isn’t all about carjacking and strippers, after all.

The opening scene was pretty intense: several masked robbers breaking into a bank. I was enjoying the action until I suddenly realized something: I was supposed to be playing as one of the characters!

I was hooked immediately.

To be perfectly honest, I only played for a few hours last night and still haven’t played the game today. I plan to, of course, but had a few things to accomplish first. At the moment I am able to control my marathon gamer tendencies, but I’m not sure how long this is likely to last. GTA V is tremendous and there is a lot to do—from jet skiing and golfing to missions and chaos—so I have only scratched the surface. But I can say this: those two hours were tantalizing and the game has been calling to me ever since.

I’m off to answer that call now, but please do me a favor. If you don’t hear from me for a few days, let someone know. By then I’ll probably require medical attention or at least professional help—as will millions of other gamers around the world, I’m sure… but GTA V is worth it!

Hazing on the upswing

English: , University of Tennessee at Knoxville

University of Tennessee at Knoxville (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in college, I often heard stories about fraternities hazing their pledges. Most of it involved excessive drinking or completely ridiculous acts, like streaking or doing other embarrassing things in public. And while much of it seemed innocent to me at the time, I was aware that students were being harmed or even killed at other institutions. Fortunately, hazing was soon outlawed and students who engaged in it faced serious consequences. Sure, some of it still happened, but at least all the morbid news stories eased off a bit.

I wish the same were true today. After just a few minutes of surfing the internet, I came across two recent hazing stories that make me wonder if this is going to become a problem again.

The first story comes from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Their chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity was just suspended because of an incident this past weekend that ended with one student being hospitalized. Apparently, they used hoses to give alcohol enemas to students. This produces a stronger and much more dangerous “buzz” since it allows alcohol to enter the bloodstream faster. The hospitalized student was subjected to this and ended up with a blood alcohol level more than five times higher than the legal limit for driving!

A spokesperson for the university denied this was hazing and instead qualified it as an “alcohol incident,” but I have my doubts. If it were this simple, then why suspend the fraternity? In my experience, alcohol and fraternities go hand-in-hand. Am I now supposed to believe that a single incident of alcohol abuse is enough to warrant suspension of the entire chapter? Better yet, would any fraternities exist if this were standard procedure? Aside from honors or academic fraternities, that is.

The second hazing story occurred at La Puente High School in California. And I must warn you that what happened is a little graphic, so please stop reading if you are easily offended.

Several young soccer players ranging in age from 14-15 were the victims of hazing and sexual assault by as many as ten of their teammates. Basically, the gang cornered each of them in a back room, held them down and inserted poles into their rectums. Although this is horrifying enough, I was even more appalled to learn that their coach was aware this abuse and did nothing to stop it. And his office was almost next door to the room where the abuse took place! It’s also worth mentioning that when the coach saw his players luring one of their victims into the room, he winked at the kid. Is there any doubt he knew what was about to happen?

While I find both of these stories disturbing for different reasons, it is obvious that hazing still occurs far more than it should. I can understand why the fraternity incident happened because as I mentioned, I know how some of these organizations operate. And the fraternity guys I knew were always looking for ways to enhance or intensify their “buzz.” They used beer bongs, did keg stands and consumed more Jello shooters than I care to count. I don’t agree with their methods, but I’m also not shocked by them, either.

Soccer Field

Soccer Field (Photo credit: Peter Ankerstål)

However, the incident at La Puente High School has to be one of the most offensive and frightening things I have heard in some time. Now that I’m a father, I find myself inserting my son into stories like these, at least as precautionary tales. He just started kindergarten and I must admit that relinquishing control of him to teachers and school administrators was not easy to do. I trust they will take care of him and make sure he remains safe, but there is always some level of doubt since no one will care for him like I do. The soccer coach in this story should have protected his players and intervened as soon as he learned of this abuse. Instead, he let it happen and even seemed to relish the fact it occurred. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if one of the victim’s parents beat the ever-loving shit out of this guy because personally, I would do it in an instant. Hell, I would probably kick some of the players’ asses, too. And you better believe that a lawsuit against the school, the coach and everyone else involved would be filed immediately. Someone would pay the price.

Hazing may be illegal, but since when has that stopped anyone? Smoking marijuana is illegal and more people are doing it than ever before, so laws aren’t enough to protect us. We must protect each other so incidents like the ones mentioned here will no longer plague our society. Part of our responsibility is to educate everyone, including our children, about the potential dangers in the world, including hazing. The other part is to take action when things like this do occur so others won’t fall victim to them in the future.

So to all you coaches, teachers or other school officials out there who let hazing and even sexual assault happen to your students,  I have one piece of advice for you: watch your back. Because if you allow something like this to happen to my son, I will be visiting you very soon.

Prosecutors: 62-year-olds death just a game for 3 teens – chicagotribune.com

T-shirt "Stop The Violence" grey / b...

“Stop The Violence” by 216 wear (Photo credit: 216 wear)

Prosecutors: 62-year-olds death just a game for 3 teens – chicagotribune.com.

I’m not sure what bothers me more: the fact that these teens beat this man to death or that they were bold and stupid enough to post the video of the beating on Facebook.

Yes, we live in a violent society and, if you simply play the odds, eventually someone is going to get hurt. Unfortunately, we as a society also seem to be sending kids the message that violent behavior isn’t just acceptable, but entertaining to boot.

Until we find a way to educate our youth so they can be productive members of society, we face certain doom once these people are the ones running the country.

And if this kind of behavior is a sign of things to come, I certainly weep for the future.

Be good to each other…

The Sad Irony of Retirement

Retirement cake (Jonathunder)

The Great Recession of 2007 scared the heck out of me and many others as we watched our retirement accounts plummet. And I am one of the fortunate ones because I am still pretty far from retirement. Others weren’t so lucky. Just look at all the older folks returning to the workforce and the grim picture becomes clear.

It got me thinking about this routine we have imposed upon ourselves, one that runs contrary to everything life should be. We spend our entire lives working, only to reach retirement when we are too old and wrinkly to enjoy it.

And thanks to the recession, we now have to work even longer, which means we are even older when we finally call it quits.

How sad and ironic is that?

Personally, I would rather enjoy the freedom that comes with retirement while I’m still relatively young. Sadly, I am not independently wealthy, have no lottery winnings and never received a huge inheritance. I’m a regular working stiff who, thanks to the economy, now has very little to show for it. And I have my doubts if I will ever be able to retire comfortably, at least not until I have one foot in the grave, that is.

I certainly wish there were an easy solution. And I know we can’t advance people their retirement and then expect them to work it off while their hips go out and their arthritis prevents a strong grip.

But it would be nice.

Turkish Viagra (Tjeerd)

And consider sex, if you will. Right now—and I apologize for being so personal—I am confident I could be “ready” almost anytime without medicinal enhancement. How enjoyable will sex be when I replace my current tool with a shriveled up, flaccid thing-a-me-bob? It won’t matter that I have so much time on my hands. I just get the feeling I’ll be more concerned with adult diapers, pill calendars and other general malaise.

So I beg you, dear reader. Help me figure this thing out so we can finally bring life back into focus. No longer will weekends and annual vacations be our only forays into pure joy. Every day will be a blessing, and we will be all the better for it.

The Issue of Race: A White Perspective

Kill Racism (H. Michael Karshis)

For some reason, the issue of racism popped into my head today and I felt obliged to share my views in this forum. Please know that I normally try to avoid such touchy subjects, but I certainly do not want to shy away from them, either. And although nothing here is earth-shattering or groundbreaking, I feel like sharing nonetheless.

My racial profile

I am a Caucasian man, the product of an Argentinian father—most of his family having immigrated from Italy and Sicily to South America in the early 20th century—and an American mother with ties to Scotland and Ireland. I even remember my great grandmother being almost fresh off the boat from Scotland, accent and all.

Like many of you—even those who deny it—I possess a streak of racial prejudice that occasionally presents itself. Face it. We are all the result of our culture and upbringing. And the general rule has always been that we feel closer to people who are just like us; those unlike us seem strange, at least until we learn more about them. It’s only natural.

My racism might take the form of an expletive mumbled in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or maybe the expectation that every African-American have some skill with a basketball. However, the deep-seeded racism that causes so many problems in the world finds no home in my heart. And I’ll tell you why.

In my life, logic always rules, so I generally consider race from a strictly scientific or anthropological perspective. I believe people are equal because of the one characteristic they all share: humanity. Race is nothing more than a geographical side effect. Where our people originated on the planet and their proximity to the equator determined their skin color, and thus their race.

When I meet someone, I strive to understand them as an individual, but I also understand that stereotypes exist, some of them for a reason. It’s obvious that people of different races occasionally perpetuate these stereotypes. Otherwise they wouldn’t exist at all. Native Americans sometimes struggle with alcoholism. White folks occasionally embarrass themselves on the dance floor. And some black men do have big… well, you catch my drift. It happens.

We are making things worse

The problem is that humans are quick to notice the negative and less apt to focus on the positive. If you don’t believe me, then turn on your local news and see for yourself. Sure, there are sometimes human interest pieces that provide at least a glimmer of hope, but they are often eclipsed by the “big stories”: crime, war, death and destruction.

And the news is regularly tinged with racial stereotypes, too. How many times must a white man hear of crimes committed by black men before he grows wary of every black person he encounters? And when he passes a young black man on the street, making no effort to consider or even acknowledge him, how must the young man feel? Would he be more or less apt to interact with whites in the future, I wonder?

The white man’s avoidance of blacks poses an even larger problem than mere racism itself; it prevents him from experiencing life in all its glory because he will now omit at least one group of people from his day-to-day existence. Whites who are afraid of blacks deny themselves potential friendships because of something as ridiculous as skin color. Do you know who suffers when this happens?

One love… is that Bob Marley? (antwerpenr)

Everyone.

Racism is a disease that stalls human evolution by perpetuating hatred, violence and disunity. But there is a cure. It involves tolerance, understanding, humanity and what the great prophet Bob Marley so eloquently called “One Love”.  The next time you find yourself cursing a bad driver or judging someone simply because their race differs from your own, please catch yourself and remember: We are all in this together. And if nothing else, we will all face the same fate someday.

Until then, be good to each other.

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